It’s only taken more than 20 years and $10 billion.
And survived a million-mile space flight.
And executed a startup procedure that had no margin for error.
But the James Webb Space Telescope, an international collaboration has sent back its first images from well beyond the moon.
So naturally, I had to call NASA and find out what the latest headlines were. They turned me on to one of their leading investigators, Thomas Green from NASA’s Ames Research Center.
“This is really giving us an idea of the kind of capability that James Webb will have both scientifically and also technically,” Green said.
The first image released elicited flashbacks to the Hubble Deep Field image from 2014 that changed the way we see our Universe.
“This deep field SMCS 0723, we’re looking outside of the Milky Way at a cluster of galaxies,” Green said. “Those are the big sort of white ones that are in the sort of the middle ground there. They are hundreds of millions of light years away. Then in the background, we see early galaxies from the early universe.”
Because James Webb uses infrared light instead of visible light, it can see things that other telescopes can’t see.
“The Webb will allow us to see the first galaxies hopefully about 300 million years after The Big Bang versus about twice that age with Hubble,” Green said.
James Webb literally sees things that are completely invisible to the naked eye. Because our eyes actually only see a small fraction of the wavelengths within light.
“And these images you’ll see are not in the colors that our eyes can see. What they’ve done is, they’ve transformed the data taken through different filters that sense different wavelengths or different colors and they transformed it into the colors our eyes can see,” Green said.
Besides looking way back, James Webb has also looked at a planet a little closer to home.
“Actually this planet has been observed by Hubble before and it’s one of the few that actually has a pretty clear atmosphere and we knew it had water, but we just couldn’t measure it well,” Green said.
Hubble could tell if a planet had water in its atmosphere, but James Webb will be able to see a heck of a lot more.
“In fact, I think yesterday they started observations of this one planet called Trappist One. This is a system of seven planets, all of them are about the size of Earth, ” Green said.
It’s hard to comprehend that light has been traveling at more than 186,000 miles per second for more than 13 billion years. And yet, it’s just now arriving for us to see.